ABOUT THE AUTHOR
started out as a writer; publishing short stories by the time he was 17. He
later became a journalist, writing features and covering everything from crime
to politics (which he would say shared something in common) for newspapers and
After a stint
in advertising he joined Paramount Pictures in the early 1960s as director of
advertising and publicity.
for The Carpetbaggers caught the attention of producer Joseph E. Levine
who invited him to New York, thus opening the door to a subsequent career in the
international side of the screen trade.
Besides Paramount, Alan Wardrope has worked with CBS theatrical films (then Cinema Center Films with studios in North Hollywood); Cinema International Corp. The international operation of Paramount and Universal, and later MGM; a number of independent producers; the Australian Film Commission, where he was that operation’s first director of marketing, responsible for showcasing films internationally during the 1970s, the Renaissance period for Australian films; his own California Connection corporation, a production and international marketing group.
written scripts, produced and directed for television. In the early 80s he was
guest lecturer at the Australian Film and Television School where he addressed
Alan Wardrope has worked in New York, London, Los Angeles, Australia and various locations throughout South East Asia. He now lives by a lake 50 miles north of Sydney where he is still involved in writing and editing screen material.
intended to write this material. However, friends, colleagues and others who
over the years learned of the films, people and other things in which I was
involved, or to which I was privy, had other ideas. They insisted that I should
put it in writing before it was too late; a euphemism for I’m getting on and
time’s running out! Anyway, their will eventually prevailed.
part, as it turned out, was what to call the work. After some head scratching on
my part, others did that for me.
On learning I
had spent some 35 years in the movie business, I was struck by how many would
exclaim: “You must have some behind-the-scenes tales to tell.”
As a result
of this, I have recounted, for want of a better label, the headlines of my
experiences, with priority to the things that have remained in the shadows and
generally unknown to the wider audience at large. Also included are smaller
events that people seemed to have enjoyed hearing, again with some revelationary
employ some of the anecdotal material given herein as an audience warm-up device
when addressing graduating classes at the Australian Film and Television School
in the 1980s. The students seemed to get a kick out of learning about actors and
films and things that happened behind the scenes and often away from the studio
to my days in journalism, I have attempted to provide not only a personal
perspective on the films, stars, producers and others who parade through these
pages, but to also reveal things that are not necessarily given in books about
movies and those responsible for their creation.
In any event,
if the various characters and what went on at times when the cameras were not
rolling provide interest and entertainment on the wonderful, bitchy,
frustrating, heartbreaking, though exhilaratingly addictive world of motion
picture business, then I’ll gladly settle for that.
Tuggerah Lake, 2004
STEVE MCQUEEN (sample)
And the demise of a Studio
‘Pull that one again and I'll take my hat off!’
The two face
masks of drama that represent the theatrical world are also most apt for the
motion picture business with its fulsome share of laughter and sadness, highs
and lows, kindness and tantrums, loyalty and treachery.
years, as a journalist, I learned that despite the oft-expressed desire for more
good news stories, and fewer of the bad, it was the calamities, cruelty,
horror and tragedy that actually sold the newspapers, with just a few
exceptions to that rule. Today it's the shock reports and revelations that
lift the 6 pm news ratings and the later current affairs programs.
for this aspect of the human condition is that we mostly get to hear and learn
more about the more notorious side of the film business as against the decency;
the divorces instead of the relationships of longevity, the megalomania and
not the more rational folk who go to make up its ranks; on camera and off,
behind the scenes, in a myriad of roles, big and small.
However, having noted this, when we are confronted by examples of the extremely outrageous, the extravagant, the ostentatious, and things bordering upon decadence, the screen trade can be hard to beat. With ratings in view, let's start with an example, which has its share of the bizarre that is so typical of Hollywood.
met Steve McQueen in 1971 at Studio City, on Ventura Boulevard in north
Hollywood. He struck me as a well-built, confident, crinkly-faced actor, who
looked much younger than his 41 years, his enthusiasm about his screen career
spilling over to his passion for cars and motorcycles.
drive around Los Angeles in a striking looking 1934 Packard roadster, the top
down, his large dog perched in the rumble seat. His favourite spot to hang out
was a place called Sneaky Pete's on Hollywood Boulevard. Steve McQueen was
energetic, restless and lived life to the full. The last time I saw that lovely
old Packard was in a museum in San Diego and sometimes wonder if it's still
For all his
charm, Steve could also be difficult, and playfully infuriating. One of his
specialities was to get up to little tricks on camera, designed to monopolize -
read steal - a scene that was supposed to favour another actor.
the Magnificent Seven he so infuriated Yul Brynner with his encroaching
into scenes, that the bald actor turned on McQueen and said, "Pull that one
again and I'll take my hat off!"
always wore a black hat, which would remain on his chrome dome from beginning to
end. To take it off on camera would have been a scene-stealer in its own
grinned and inclined his head in a disarming gesture of "Who me . .
.?" But nonetheless he got the message and thereafter left Brynner
to Studio City, where a cloud hung over a film Steve had just completed for CBS'
theatrical film division, then known as Cinema Center Films (CCF). And part of
the problem was linked to the actor's passion for automobiles.
in question was a picture then titled 24 Hours of Le Mans, to be soon
after known as simply Le Mans. No Brownie points for guessing what this
movie was about!
Steve's involvement with cars, racing, and motorcycles, he saw himself as being
more than simply the star; he moved in as technical consultant, script
adviser, 'shadow' director, editor, a sort of Charlie Chaplin on wheels. The
label summed it all: Creative Input. And that should have been enough to set the
alarm bells ringing.
upon, or seized upon by an actor, creative control or excessive input can mean
trouble with a capital T, and the CCF Studio should have been warned by the
plentiful lessons of cinematic history.
there were other issues forming over what was then both a modest and fledgling
film operation, and no doubt these came into play at the time. Formed and
bankrolled by CBS, Cinema Center Films had been established as the theatrical
films arm of the network, as against the group's television product.
And while the
sadly short-lived CCF became responsible for the production of films such as Little
Big Man, with Dustin Hoffman A Man Called Horse, the Richard Harris
effort, and Blue Water White Death, the overall product output had been
both modest and a touch like the Curate's Egg: some good and those which were
not so good. Those in the executive eagles 'lair in CBS's 'Black Rock' * HQ in
New York were becoming restless. They had never really understood, or had been
adequately briefed, on the time lag between putting a motion picture together,
marketing it and organising national and international distribution, and the
final returns from the box office. Now a common yardstick in the fiscal sense
was that you needed four times the budget from your share of the end box office
before you broke even, or could be considered to have a modest success.
situation contrasted starkly with the usually quick turnaround offered by
television, where budgets were much lower, production values not nearly so
demanding, and the relatively swift return on investment. Those at Black Rock
were trying to come to terms with the near bottomless pit of motion picture
production, distribution and the long haul to realise a return for all the time,
problems and money. It was an experience which was causing them to have second
the pressure was always on the studio to produce successful films, more so than
with the larger and established operations which were owned and run by feature
film people, who lived with the long hauls, knowing that when you eventually had
a hit it was bonanza time! A common experience with major production entities
was just one Godfather, Love Story, The Sting, Titanic or Harry
Potter each year could make up for a series of ‘also rans’ at the box
So called because of the colour of CBS' tower building and also with the film
Bad Day At Black Rock in mind.
modest product inventory, CCF's David among the Goliaths placed it constantly
between a rock and a hard place. In fact it was doomed from the start.
making of Le Mans McQueen was such a stickler for the minutiae of motor
racing director John Sturges walked out of the project in sheer exasperation.
McQueen’s never ending demands and requirements made it all not worth the
candle, so far as Sturges was concerned. This left Steve and screenwriter Lee
Katzin to take the helm.
flimsy plot of Le Mans lost even more weight, with the budget in turn
putting on the calories, the last thing CCF could afford. For example, more than
$1 million was spent on race cars alone, which included three Porsche 917s at
$70,000 apiece and four Ferraris at $55,000 each.
credit, Le Mans is regarded to this day as one of the most realistic car
racing films ever shot. However, while the cars were doing their thing out on
the track, this alone was not sufficient to sustain the interest of general
Its star not
uttering one word of dialogue within the first 40 minutes on the screen did
not help the situation! The foreboding many of us shared at CCF was becoming
only too true.
Now in the
driver's seat, in more ways than one, McQueen kept calling the shots. The end
result was that Steve's directing resulted in a picture that potentially had
no fewer than three endings. It was even suggested that four endings were
editing Troika, the studio opted for one ending, McQueen for another, with the
third option hovering over the debate as a reluctant compromise. It was almost
an example of film making by committee.
there was more drama to come. Again, it had to do with Steve's obsession with
the film needed all the marketing support that could be mustered if it was to
have an even chance at the box office, CCF's promotional people stitched
together a campaign keyed to product placement, well before that phrase
became commonplace within the industry.
A keystone of
the sell was to involve national exposure via a major oil company whose
association with the production would be exploited.
confronted with the campaign McQueen wanted to know what was in it for him. He
was not prepared to go along with the promotion just for the good of the film.
After all, his likeness would be utilised by the oil company.
was agreed that in return for the actor's co-operation, he would receive a
lifetime's supply of oil and gasoline for his collection of exotic cars and
executives heaved a collective sigh of relief and pushed forward on the overall
campaign and distribution strategy for Le Mans, ticking one more problem
off their list. Wrong! There were more surprises to come! Steve McQueen was now
holed up in Palm Springs while the centerpiece of the oil company tie-up, some
artwork on which posters and brochures would be based was set in
The completed artwork was checked out by a group of us, which included the studio's president, and vice president. An executive jet was on standby at Van Nuys airport in the Valley to fly the material out to McQueen's desert lair. It seemed quite straightforward.
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